Saturday, April 9, 2005
Spanish lawmakers....... take up cudgels for....... jailed Osmeña scion
Volt Contreras 

Inquirer News Service

      SPANISH lawmakers attending the Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly have turned to their Filipino counterparts for help in a bid to save a compatriot—a dual citizen convicted in the "Chiong Sisters" rape-slay case—from corredor de la muerte. (corridor of death).

      In a press conference arranged yesterday by the Spanish envoy to Manila, Spain's eight-member IPU delegation insisted on the innocence of Francisco Juan "Paco" Larrañaga, a Spanish-Filipino sent to the death row for the gruesome crime that shocked Cebu City in 1997.

      A scion of the powerful Osmeña clan, Larrañaga was one of the seven young men sentenced to life imprisonment by the Cebu Regional Trial Court for the rape and murder of sisters Jacqueline, 23, and Marie Joy Chiong, 20. In February 2004, the Supreme Court upgraded the penalty to death.

      The visiting lawmakers cited both Larrañaga's defense and what they saw as procedural lapses in the trial, in letters sent to Senate President Franklin Drilon and House Speaker Jose De Venecia. 

      "With our utmost respect for the legislation and the judicial system of the Philippines, we deem it appropriate to submit the attached document [containing] factual and procedural details which may have undermined [Larrañaga's] legal guarantees and that casts doubts on the evidence of his guilt," the letter read, adding: "We are convinced that if Your Excellency reads the documents presented, you will reach the same conclusion as the Spanish delegation: It is essential to protect the principles that guarantee the rule of law."

      This IPU sidelight was the latest wave of external pressure exerted on the Philippine judiciary over the celebrated case since Larrañaga et al's conviction in May 1999.

      Still on appeal at the Supreme Court, the case mmm 


has drawn calls for a "fair trial" from Spanish legal circles, a rights watchdog group from the European Union and the European Parliament, the latter writing directly to President Macapagal-Arroyo.   

      The Madrid Bar Association, Basque Bar and Barcelona Bar had each submitted an Amicus Curiae brief to the SC, but the high tribunal refused to accept them.

      The Spanish IPU delegation revived key arguments from Larrañaga's defense: That he was in Quezon City when the crime happened in Cebu as attested to by 35 witnesses; and that the prosecution's star witness lacked credibility and wove an inconsistent tale in court.

      In the letter, the delegation asked Drilon and De Venecia for their "commitment to act on this issue, from your important position of institutional responsibility."

      The letter was signed by legislators spanning Spain's ruling and opposition blocs. They were Congressmen Teresa Cunillera Mestres, Juan Moscoso del Prado Hernandez, Jorge Moragas Sanchez and Jordi Jane Guasch; Senators Clemente Sanz Blanco, Maria Antonia Martinez Garcia, Carles Bonet Reves and Inaki Anasagasti Olabega.

      They visited and had an "emotional" meeting with Larrañaga, 27, at the New Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa on Thursday, the group said during a press conference at the Westin Philippine Plaza, where IPU delegates were staying.

      "We are defending the values and principles that the Spanish society shares with Filipinos: the right to life and respect for law," Moragas told the press. "A review of the trial is needed," he stressed.

      For Moragas, it "astonished" him as a lawyer and legislator that Larrañaga "was not allowed" by the Cebu court to have his own lawyer but was only given a public attorney. "Many strange things happened," he said.

      "We're not asking for clemency. We're asking for justice," added Anasagasti.

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